Using a SWOT to enhance personal learning
One of the hardest things to do alone is to effectively carry out a skills self-evaluation before setting up clear objectives towards a Personal Learning Plan (PLP).
Knowing where one is at a given time is not an easy task due to a variety of reasons, one being the difficulty in being objective with oneself – the ability to take a step back and see things as they are, without being overshadowed by emotive aspects.
It also depends a lot on how we are as a person:
A confident person and a person with lower self-esteem, will have diametrically opposed difficulties in evaluating themselves both realistically and objectively.
Embarking on this task, alone is quite a challenging undertaking.
Using a SWOT to enhance personal learning – SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis can really help in gaining clarity and setting realistic objectives and is a simple tool that can be used alone, but which can be further exploited with the help of a coach.
The SWOT analysis is a simple matrix as shown below:
The idea is to start out by looking at where you are now in terms of your goals, aims and objectives and to discover where effort needs to be focued in order to reach your goals.
The process is reflective and involves a certain degree of metacognition (thinking about your own thinking) in order to be able to effectively accomplish the task.
In order to demonstrate the concept, let’s take Claire, a working mum, who wants to progress in her job – this is just to illustrate an example – it could be any subject and a SWOT can also be used in other contexts.
Using a SWOT to enhance personal learning is great for strategic planning and project feasibility studies as the focus is largely a 360° approach and very analytical, but one which entails action steps and change as a consequence.
Claire has a strong desire to progress in her job, but she has never really been able to succeed due to many barriers which systematically get in the way, and which she cannot seem to surmount, at least on her own.
She has never really been obsessively nor aggressively ambitious and has always put her family before herself, but now wants to move to a more interesting job with more responsibility.
When embarking on a SWOT, it is easy to fall into the trap of being able to fill the Weaknesses section easily and then be short of Strengths – it is sometimes dialectic, in as much as a Weakness can also be an Opportunity as a Threat can also become a Strength.
She has decided to start work with a coach to be able to get things moving as she has never quite got there alone and feels that this is a good opportunity for her, both in her life and in her career.
Her coach has asked her to fill in the SWOT matrix, which she does before they meet again.
STRENGTHS and WEAKNESSES are known as Internal elements that either create or reduce value, whilst OPPORTUNITIES and THREATS are known as External elements that can form barriers to learning but that are often not fully controlled by the learner.
The questions to ask are: What am I good at / what qualities or skills do I possess?
What are the qualities / skills that I need to develop that I am aware of ?
How can I use my STRENGTHS to overcome my weaknesses, to move into new areas of learning?
What hinders or prevents me from reaching my goals?
Communication, Punctual, Telephone manner, Organised, Conscientious, Experience in the company, Motivated
IT Skills, Foreign Language skills, Time Management, Management skills, Lack of experience of team management Gets easily stressed, Lack of self-confidence
More responsibilities, Variety in new job, Learn new skills, Higher salary, Company car, be part of the decision making process
Lives far from work, Difficulty to travel, Family commitments, Age, etc.
Coaching a person through a SWOT analysis is both a negotiated and an awareness process, predominately made up of questioning, but essentially, it must be free of judgement or preconceived ideas.
The coach decides to use another tool to complement the SWOT process, a Confrontation Matrix, which is used to offset the Strengths with Opportunities and Threat, and the Weaknesses with the same, as shown below:
|STRENGTHS||ATTACK STRATEGY||ADJUSTMENT STRATEGY|
|WEAKNESSES||DEFENCE STRATEGY||SURVIVAL STRATEGY|
In the SWOT matrix, the coach helps the learner to offset STRENGTHS with OPPORTUNITIES / STRENGTHS with THREATS and consequently, WEAKNESSES with OPPORTUNITIES / WEAKNESSES with THREATS in order to produce a set of action steps or a PLP to help the learner progress to the next step, which, in this case, will be a set of decisions and plans to move into the new job.
The value of a SWOT is that it is a way of seeing where a learner is at a given point in time and where they need to be in the future.
It can help build a clear Learning Action Plan with specific goals, timescales and measurement variables built in.
If you intend using a SWOT analysis there are some do’s and don’ts to be aware of in order to guarantee the success of the process:
- Don’t expect people to be able to fill in the matrix without a clear briefing of how it will be used and the type of elements that it should include.
- Ensure that there is adequate thought and process time to be able to complete the matrix.
- Understand that the SWOT is ephemeral. That it could be filled-in today and change tomorrow. People, contexts and situations are constantly in a state of flux.
- Ensure that there are clear guidelines and boundaries on confidentiality. The only sharing is done by the learner – who can invite the coach/mentor to be present if they want to debrief their managers on the process and outcomes.
- Be aware that people with low self-esteem will naturally include more weaknesses than strengths – they will need help evoking their qualities, skills and qualities more than confident people.
- The process should be viewed as a positive and fun process, with benefits clearly set-out for the learner.
- Remember that the coach will learn a great deal from the process, which can be used as another building-block in the coach’s development.
- There needs to be a bond of trust between learner and coach/mentor, built before embarking on a SWOT